Via media, back to the future for global capitalism

Via media, back to the future for global capitalism

 Millions relied on that programme for their view of the world. Events in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were daily news, and Southeast Asia was the hot spot in the Cold War.

Beijing, or Peking as it was referred to, and of course, as now, West Asia also featured. Those places were on the other side of the world, and I probably could not have located them on a map. Back then, I also recall thinking that the year 2000 would never arrive. Being very young at the time, it seemed a lifetime away.

The year 2000 has been and gone, and the world’s hot-spots have changed — well some of them. Eventually, I not only managed to locate Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China on a map, but actually went to those places. I remember standing in Tianamen Square looking up at the portrait of Mao, thinking to myself that the first time I saw that picture was on ‘News at Ten’ back in 1973 or thereabouts. That was in 1994. It felt a bit surreal. All the more so as a McDonald’s restaurant had been built at the opposite end of the square, in full view of Mao.

One of my first recollections of India was in 1984, again through the TV screen, and on ‘News at Ten’. The US-owned Union Carbide factory hit the headlines, and I remember an exodus of thousands of people escaping from the poisonous fumes that spewed out from the plant and hung over Bhopal. I visited the city in 1998 and stood outside the main gate of the former Carbide factory. Across the road was a slogan that read ‘Hang Anderson’. In front of the slogan was a quite small and humble looking statue of a veiled woman covering her eyes and carrying a baby. Another child is at her feet.

What if Bhopal had happened in America? It might have have been a different story, or indeed one that never occurred in the first place. That kind of thing is ‘allowed’ only in the so-called ‘developing world’, if it can be got away with.

Disparity
But should this really come as a surprise? Sections of the West enjoy unprecedented levels of wealth, three billion live on less that two dollars a day and a fifth of the world’s population do not have access to clean drinking water. All are inextricably linked. The humble rickshaw man in Dhaka, the factory worker in UP and the small farmer in AP, who lives — and dies — under the looming cloud of powerful agribusiness concerns, all have one thing in common — like so many others, they are increasingly labouring under global capitalism.

I still occasionally watch ‘News at Ten’. It is still going strong. The average British citizen is still subjected to the nightly horrors of the world — but as ever, presented in a reassuring and entertaining way. Too much gloom, doom and analysis is bad for the soul (and for the ratings). I suppose you would have to watch the programme to see the paradox in action. You would probably have to watch much more than that though — the advertisements either side of the news also have the required soothing effect. There is a certain light-hearted fizz to it all.

What better fizz is there than Pepsi and Coke? They are the ultimate in emptiness with their hedonistic, Coke is Life, Just Do It, attitudes. Their advertisements represent a triumph of blandness over meaning. ‘Just Do It’ implies ‘Don’t think and Enjoy’! and has just about as much substance as the air bubbles in a can. Just do what? — I don’t know. Who cares? Let’s have a Pepsi and settle down for the ‘news’ — public theatre largely void of serious analysis. That’s entertainment!

The living room where I watched TV in the 1970s seems a long way away at times. And it is. These days events are not viewed from the cosy armchair of the privileged West in front of the TV. What once appeared to be a lifetime away in the world of a boy, is only ten hours or so by plane. Didn’t Mao once say something about every journey beginning with the first step? Who knows where anyone’s journey may eventually lead. Perhaps, to a brave new Monsanto-controlled, low wage, Big Mac-pumped-full-of-who-knows-what inspired world? Let’s hope not.

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